executive-blog

April 22, 2010

32K

I know this is old news, but this GoGo inflight wireless is pretty cool. I am 32,000 feet up right now and connected to all my fun, social media toys. I have been tweeting, facebooking, and now I decided to hammer out a blog about it. The really cool thing to me is that I am RDP’d to my desktop at the office and am able to do my email in my native client and have access to all of my different instant messaging networks. I am even going to message our web guys and see if we can have this blog published before I land. I have my power adapter, my seat has a power port and they are serving me a diet coke right now. Man, if I could get this kind of service at the office I might stop traveling because this is the life. No walk up chatting to interrupt my hard working ways, no blenders to tempt me to waste time and blend something, and also no temptation to leave for lunch and go to Rafain’s to eat 6000 calories of fantastic, spicy beef. The snacks on the plane are a bit expensive, so I might even lose a few pounds.

I am in flight back from Cloud Expo in New York and it was amazing how many more people understand the cloud this year than last year. All in all it was a good show. We met a few more of our customers, and once again, we had many compliments. We really like to hear them, so if we end up at a show close to you, please come see us. We will even let you complain if you need to, but we are confident you won’t have to. You can always walk away with a little piece of SoftLayer swag, ranging from a shirt or a cup, to a Frisbee or maybe even a little free computing power.

The next show on my agenda is GDC in Vancouver and then Citrix Synergy in San Francisco. Come by and see me in person! I don’t bite, but I do growl a little. Look out for the upcoming tweets with booth numbers and show times, and as always we might have something special to hand you.

While you are at it - come check us out on Facebook, flickr, twitter and the rest!

April 21, 2010

Building the Better Company

If you had the opportunity to listen to SoftLayer’s CEO, Lance Crosby, speak at this year’s Parallels Hosting Summit you definitely were able to obtain a key understanding as to his views on building solid companies in and through the hosting space. Some of the key points from Lance’s notes in regards to building sustainable businesses in the space were:

•Have a solid plan in place and use it as your guideline

•Create Systems that are scalable and metric driven

•Diversify the personnel and surround yourself with people that are experts in their functional areas and are sound characters. Don’t be a leader that thinks he is everything to all groups within the organization.

•Stop and look for mistakes, quickly correct the root problem and learn/adapt from those mistakes and repairs.

Lance’s message in his speech very closely aligns with a recent blog I read, “How to Build Your Own $23 Billion Company ,” which details the chairman of ASUS and his company’s ability to obtain significant market share in a once closed competitive environment, building a company from the ground up and with significant growth plans for the future. Jonney Shih, Chairman of ASUS, lays out his five rules that he believes are the basis for building any company, be it $500,000, $5,000,000 or $23,000,000,000 (as in the case of ASUS). Similarly to lance’s messages he states the following:

1)Sharpen the Sword – Build a plan and stick to it. Don’t jump from place to place. Have a focus and be the best at it that you can.

2)Ride the Right Wave – Seize the market opportunity. As Softlayer was able to seize the on-demand computing/virtualized data center market, ASUS was able to seize their market position in a time that built the foundation for their company to flourish.

3)Choose the right partners – Shih’s message of personnel is fundamental to his long term growth. “You need to really factor in their innate character,” Shih says. “You are going to work together for a lifetime, hopefully, and their character is as important as their technical knowledge.”

4)Recruit the best team leaders at the very beginning – As Lance’s speech mentions, the opportunity to build your company with a baseline of educated, experienced leaders with true functional, front line expertise will shape your organization for years to follow.

5)Drive the right strategy and confront the brutal facts – Not knowing the bad/ugly parts of business can compound these problems into downright disasters. Having people around you that are willing to look at mistakes with the idea to quickly correct these and move on will dramatically propel a company’s opportunity for longevity and growth. Ignoring things that can be addressed can only be negative in the long term.

Here at Softlayer, we have the good fortune to support many of the thriving hosting providers, VAR’s, managed service providers, and other niche based businesses that are gaining in both size and scale in the industry and really helping the hosting industry move from niche to mainstream. Many of these firms have humble roots such as Softlayer or ASUS in the example above. The key to continuing the mass adoption into the mainstream of the hosting space is to ensure that the leaders of the companies driving the growth are fundamentally sound and built on a proper foundation to achieve sustainable growth. SoftLayer’s groundwork has been laid to help support this growth throughout the industry. In our efforts to become the dominate force in the industry we hope that we have the opportunity to support the endeavors of those businesses and who knows, instead of ASUS, we may be talking about your company and how you have become the next $23,000,000,000 business.

April 19, 2010

Watch Us Grow!

It’s been two and a half years (roundabout) since I started here at SoftLayer. It’s amazing to take a look back and see exactly how far we have come in that time. We sacrifice sleep for innovation and food for customer service. Our Development team works around the clock to continue to release products and features that further enhance our customers’ ability to take control of their servers and reduce interaction with our support team (although we’re sure that you love us, right?). It’s often fun to look back at the past and see exactly how far you’ve come. Sometimes when you’re buried in the day-to-day, it’s difficult to take a look from above to see that.

As I first set foot in the doors at the Dallas NOC, I walked into a maelstrom of activity. Brad showed me the ropes and walked me through my first server build. He showed me how to monitor server provisions and reloads and taught me everything (and then some) about hardware. Concurrently, two new datacenters were in the works – one in Seattle and one in WDC. As the company grew, the crew grew with it. I watched as our team grew with the company. I saw promotions, new hires, and new titles being added every day. I decided I had to get a piece of the action. After some trial, error, and plenty of downtime on an old PC, I learned a few things, and made my move to SysAdmin. I was lucky enough to have a crew who was willing to teach me some tricks of the trade.

Soon thereafter Lance announced even more growth. We’re now opening up a new corporate headquarters (watch the progress here!), our network map has been updated to add our new POPs, and there’s plenty more exciting news forthcoming. Needless to say SoftLayer doesn’t rest. While it may be rough at times, it’s great to look back at the last few years and see how far we’ve come. We’re a tight knit family. The ones that have been here for a while work closely to ensure our success, and the newbies are quickly taught the way of the SLayer. We’ll continue to grow, and opportunities for both our staff and our customers will be endless. Congrats to SL for leading the path, and kudos to our customers for making us the best in the industry!

April 14, 2010

The “Truth” (Or Common Sentiments) of Data Center and IT Professionals

In a recent column at searchdatacenter.com there was a list presented regarding the 20 universal truths in the Data Center. It’s a pretty funny list, but as an outsourced, on demand data center services provider, we are often catering to the IT operator’s mentality that resides in these truths. We have a good subset of customers that fall into many of these statements and we are continuously working to address, help, and augment—with the idea to help complete the IT story rather than compete with the IT strategy/needs of our customers… Below, I pulled out a few of the “truths” listed and added Softlayer views of them.

#2 - Upgrading Hardware is cheaper than improving Software – In the Softlayer world our services cater to this theory as a baseline for our offerings. We are constantly allowing customers to ‘right-size’ their compute needs and we are able to do this because of the robust compute offering and the flexible structure embedded in our business model.

#9 – Bandwidth is the same as energy. As more is provided, more is used – We have seen bandwidth usage grow almost threefold over the last 4 years and it’s a result of the internet applications demanding more bandwidth for things like video, voice, etc. Also, linear pricing models allow bandwidth to be less of an unknown and move towards a very predictable usage model.

#14 – It is always costlier and more time-consuming to wait and fix it later – Being able to quickly assess through metrics and functionality reviews, we fully subscribe to if it’s broke, fix it quickly and remove the legacy of the deficiencies. We are all human and will make errors and mistakes and being forward enough to recognize and repair these will continue to ensure your customer, employers, and employees that you have a handle on your business. Have you seen Lance Crosby’s printer stand?

#15 – By the time the CEO has learned enough to ask about a technology, it’s no longer a strategic advantage – My Favorite and have you met Lance Crosby?

#16 Exactly what you want will cost you more that you budget – In the spirit of full disclosure, our CFO, Mike Jones, takes our numbers that we budget for purchases and adds the “actual factor” to it of a +20-30%!!

The list of 20 is well worth the quick read and as I did the first time reading, I would imagine that many of you feel like you could have written this yourself. IT and Data Centers are tough. The goal for all of us is to increase efficiency, reduce costs and ensure that we spend more time moving forward and progressing rather than spending the bulk of our time fixing the past!!

April 12, 2010

SLombies

Here at SoftLayer each shift is divided into a 9 hour crew. There’s the day shift, the evening shift, and the overnight crew. Each shift has perks and drawbacks as well as little idiosyncrasies that you won’t find on the other shifts. Each crew is as hard working and knowledgeable as the next, however each crew has certain hurdles to jump over in order to keep the data center running in top form. There’s one team – dubbed the SLombies, which have been assigned to man the datacenter in the wee hours of the morning.

Being on the overnight crew requires a certain degree of dedication not found in other types of work. Aside from the obvious (sleeping during sunlight hours, getting calls from friends while sleeping, etc), the SLombies require an additional degree of dedication. While much of the world sleeps we’re wide awake (thank you caffeine) and kicking butt in the DC. Anyone from the overnight crew can tell you it’s not easy and we often have to add titles to our work description. While the hours aren’t the most desirable, certain things make working overnight worthwhile. Our crew is one of the most tight-knit groups of individuals I’ve ever worked with. The talent on this shift is beyond belief and when tough issues come along we all put our heads together to make sure the problems are solved quickly, efficiently, and correctly. Working in such an environment breeds loyalty to your crew, and because of that, we have each others’ backs.

While working overnight can be costly on the body there are always certain advantages to any shift. While most businesses close after normal work hours, we’re able to run errands after work before we’re required to call it a day. It takes some getting used to but the rewards of working with such a hard working and dedicated team goes beyond lack of sleep and weird hours. For those of you in the continental US rest easy knowing that SLombies are working hard to keep the datacenter running smoothly and to answer any questions that may keep you awake at night.

April 12, 2010

How Much Is a Trillion?

Since the budget surpluses of the seemingly long ago Clinton administration have vanished, the government as managed by both major political parties has been on a spending spree. These folks have been throwing down trillions like rappers throw down Benjamins!
Speaking of Benjamins, how big is a pile of a trillion dollars made up of Benjamins? Click here for a quick look.
I did something yesterday that gave me a whole new view of how large of a number a trillion really is. I work with some big spreadsheets of data that I query from our database systems here at work. Using Excel 2007, I can analyze worksheets that are a million records long. So I needed to use the VLOOKUP function in Excel to grab a field of data in one worksheet of a million records and move it into another worksheet of a million records. I run these types of jobs on a server (not my desktop machine) and this process brought my server to its knees.
This particular VLOOKUP job involved a trillion comparisons. For each of the million rows in worksheet #1, it had to search a specified range of one million fields in spreadsheet #2, find the exact match, and bring a specific field of data back into spreadsheet #1. A million rows searching a million fields = 1,000,000 x 1,000,000. And a million times a million equals a trillion.
Now, my server is not a wimpy machine. It has Nehalem processors with 16 total processing cores running at 2.93 GHz. It doesn’t have a stupendous amount of RAM because Excel can only use just so much RAM. But many functions in Excel such as VLOOKUP can utilize all the processing cores you can throw at them.
So when I hit the return key at 5:12 PM yesterday to kick off this VLOOKUP, I noticed that it was taking a while. So I went to Task Manager and I saw that all 16 cores were maxed out at 100% utilization. All sixteen cores remained maxed out until 5:47 PM at which time the job finished successfully.
So, for all the techies out there, that’s your representation of how big a trillion really is. It takes 16 processing cores running at 2.93 GHz each maxed out for 35 straight minutes to run a VLOOKUP involving a trillion comparisons.

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March 31, 2010

I Am the Cell Phone Person

Being the “cell phone person” here at SoftLayer has its challenges, to put it mildly. I thought that working with mostly boys (yes, I meant to say boys) would be a breeze compared to a bunch of women (we tend to be a bit ummm, picky?). I was terribly wrong! They are WORSE! Especially with gadgets like cell phones, considering the field we are in. For some reason a lot of them think that because they can configure a server they also know exactly what is wrong with their phone without actually troubleshooting it at all or why they MUST have this phone or that phone.

Reboot?! Why?! Hmmmm that was one of the first things I learned to ALWAYS do. I learned this from Jacob Linscott, my first IT guy back in 1997, who I work with once again; he is our Director of IT – Linux. I learned very quickly that I had better not EVEN think about calling him until I had rebooted my computer. Amazingly enough, I’d say the odds on a reboot fixing the issue with both computers and cell phones is very high, but that’s about the only thing that is similar in regards to issues between the two. I have been amazed at the multitude of varying issues as well as the information you can find online to fix a phone without having to call the carrier; and, that is a real life saver!

What baffles me is that everyone seems to know what’s wrong with their phone without actually researching it. When I say “So you Googled that and found info that said it was most likely the issue?” I get “nah, I just think that’s it.” I just shake my head, take their phone, and walk away. I Google my rear end off all the time! I am as specific as possible when I do a search. Such as, “my 8320 can send SMS, but is not receiving them.” Seems obvious, right? Wrong!

One would think the Geektopia of staff we have would do the same, WRONG! There is a world of knowledge and information out there regarding any number of BlackBerry and iPhone issues if you simply just take a few minutes to type your issue into a search engine. Heck, you don’t have to use Google, you can use whatever search engine you want! I’ve sent out emails regarding tips and tricks, the problem I seem to have is getting people to actually read the info. Admittedly, we get hundreds and hundreds of emails a day, some days thousands, depending on what group lists they are on; so I’ll give a little slack. It’s simply a case of missing the obvious, like when you are trying to fix a computer and it won’t work and it turns out to be the simplest thing that was forgotten, happens with phone issues too. Everyone just goes into panic mode when their phone isn’t functioning, amazing how we lived without cell phones just 20 years ago.

When SL was starting up just a few years ago, our VP of Sales was the cell phone person and he wasn’t too thrilled. He couldn’t WAIT to pass it on to someone else. I was the chosen one or sucker, depending how you look at it. I remember sitting in my cube my first week at SL, which wasn’t too far from his office, and giggling when he had to call the carrier and deal with some phone issues. I don’t giggle anymore. They told me by no means was it a punishment, taking over this particular job duty, but some days I wonder—especially the days when I get stuck on the phone for hours and hours trying to get a phone fixed, repeating myself over and over to 5 different people in 5 departments! It’s a source of some major meltdowns to say the least.

You see, we have about 130 phones throughout the company in four different locations. Dallas has Corporate and the DC and of course Seattle and WDC. So a lot of phones, a lot of folks, a lot of issues; from “My phone got ruined when I went hiking wearing khaki’s and got caught in a rain storm, the rain soaked through and ruined my phone, can I have a better one now?” to, “I lost it at the Christmas Party, sorry” to “If I step on it, does that mean I have to pay for it, because I want a better one?!” Yes, those are just a few of them, and obviously some of my favorites.

I, with the help of a few others, just recently upgraded 31 phones; Lance our CEO is cool like that. You see, the 31 were 8700c BB models, or fondly referred to as “coasters” around here. Of course they were spread across our four locations, so this required lots of coordination with someone on the other end of the line. This upgrade took over a month due to device issues (new phone to market at the time).

The guys in the Dallas NOC all know better than to laugh as they hear my cursing due to being on the phone for countless hours; or if they do, they’ve gotten much better about hiding it. The point of all of this is to remind you that if you have a company cell phone and it has issues, be kind to your cell phone person and know that you are not the only one with an issue. Cell phones break. Cell phones die. Cell phones get dropped on the ground, in the toilet, or, my favorite, thrown across a room in anger every single day. So if your cell phone person can’t get to you RIGHT THAT MINUTE, try trouble shooting it yourself. No, not installing things, but maybe just try and look up your issue, and let them know what you found. Send them the link or print it out. It will make their day. Trust me on this one!

March 29, 2010

Motivation by Lance

SoftLayer has now been around for over four years, which is just crazy! I remember when there were less than twenty employees with just a hope and a dream. NOW LOOK AT US! There are many reasons why SoftLayer has become so extremely successful. The people who work here really care, they are extremely intelligent, and we work in a great, fun, and committed environment. I thought it would be funny to go back and look at some of Lance’s old emails, sent out to our teensy-tiny sales team back in the day. I got a kick out of this, because it was extremely entertaining. Lance never hesitated to shoot us an email reminding us how hard we needed to continue to work for our goal. Some of the things we were excited about back then boggle my mind. Here are a few highlights!
Example # 1 --
Sent:Fri 2/17/2006 9:57PM
From:Lance Crosby
Subject:It’s Official
“We just sold our 100th server……well actually we are at 102!!”

***This is hilarious and adorable looking back, considering we now have 24,000 servers in production and 1,000+ in inventory.

Example # 2 --
Sent:Thurs 3/30/2006 5:35PM
From:Lance Crosby
Subject:Changes
“Lots of changes to keep up with in the portal……
Check out graphing from the customer side – now has daily/weekly/monthly/billing and table data!
Automated OS reloads are live for customer control!
Click around a bit and see what the dev team has put together over the past few weeks.
Good stuff!!”

***We were excited about bandwidth graphs and automated OS reloads, which is a regular staple now! This is not to mention all of the amazing features our development team has added to the portal since then. These features include, but are not limited to, purchasing servers, hardware control, monitoring configuration, DNS management, public and private port control, firewall setup and management, CDN management, IPMI Management & Stats, etc. etc. etc. THE LIST GOES ON AND ON!

Example # 3 --
Sent:Fri 9/8/2006 2:59PM
From:Lance Crosby
Subject:Ding!!!
“We just crossed the $6M recurring revenue mark!!”

***Sure, it takes baby steps, but now we have reached $110 million in recurring revenues, which is absolutely nothing to sneeze at.

Example # 4 --
Sent:Sat 10/14/2006 1:39PM
From:Lance Crosby
Subject:Job Well Done
“Hats off to all the folks that worked last night to build the 33 Pentium D’s. Not only are we server building experts now, our build team cleared the build queue within two hours of arrival at the Infomart last night.
It’s a good thing…..because Sales is on fire today………13 Servers by 1:00 on a SATURDAY!!”

***Our build team has done nothing but improve even from near perfection back then. They have been known to build out 100+ servers in the recent past within a few hours. The same definitely goes for our Sales team, who do you think sold all of those servers to be built out after all?

Example # 5 --
Sent:Tue 9/25/2007 9:10PM
From:Lance Crosby
Subject:Big 4-0
“Hit 40 tonight and I will buy the Steak Finger Baskets and Blizzards for lunch/dinner tomorrow!!
Yip – that’s DQ Country Style”

***This is classic Lance, who knows true motivation is through the belly. For those of you who are not familiar with Dairy Queen, their big red sign is the true “Texas stop sign.”

It is great to be a part of a fast-growing company such as SoftLayer. Keep up the motivation, Lance!

March 24, 2010

Location, Location, Location

South by Southwest (“SXSW”) Interactive wrapped up last week, and one of the recurring themes was how location-based services (LBS) are changing the landscape of social media. When you port social media apps to the mobile phone, a world of LBSs are opened to you.

There are many use cases for LBS, many for social media, and the intersection of the two are even more interesting.

As seen with foursquare and Gowalla, bringing in LBS into a social application that lets you add tips/comments to restaurants, bars, etc. instantly turns it into a quick way to see where the “hot” places are currently in your area. Adding game mechanics (like badges) only makes foursquare even more addictive.

This is the new hotness.

The New Hotness

The intersect between Location-based services and social media.

Is it any surprise that twitter started supporting location-based tweets this week? They’re simply keeping up with the trend. I expect to see location-appropriate contextual ads in applications on mobile phones more now. If you’re walking down 5th street, and you’ve given your application access to GPS information, advertisers would love to be able to tell you to drop by their shop on your way to wherever you’re headed.

ShopSavvy, for instance, could push notifications to customers using that app letting them know where deals are in their proximity.

There are detractors. Plenty of people still want to keep their location private. If you’re an at-risk person (in an abusive relationship, for instance) you should think twice before turning on location-based services. More and more websites/applications these days are starting to set very “open” defaults rather than restrictive defaults. As Danah Boyd recently said, we were once a people who kept information private and decided what to make public. Now we are more and more making data about ourselves public by default, and take more effort to decide what to make private.

Edit: A day after I posted this, I found an article by Kevin Nakao which provides more detail on location-based services. It is a great reader and can be found here.

March 22, 2010

Oatmeal is Good for YOU!

Have you seen the commercials for Quaker Oats oatmeal? In recent years they have changed their traditional marketing message to appeal to a specific customer profile. The ads new message is that by eating oatmeal every day for breakfast for 30 days, you will lower your blood cholesterol levels. Pretty slick! Eat our oatmeal and you drop your cholesterol and participate in a healthy lifestyle. Net result, you are healthier, live longer, better quality of life, Yada, Yada, Yada….All this from the simple, inexpensive miracle food… oatmeal. Hey, no need for that expensive prescription medication to control your HDL or LDL, just eat a bowl of oatmeal every day!!

Now, you’re probably asking, what the heck is the point to this blog? Well, glad you asked! I want to share a story with you. This past weekend, I went on a hunting excursion to Central Texas to hunt wild hogs. There are a number of interesting tales to share about the actual hunting, and I’ll post those at a later date! This story takes place in a small town I passed thru (or tried to anyway) on the way to the hunting lease. Flying down Hwy 29, we were passing thru a small, one stop light town named Bertram. Big signs all over town advertise the fact (Proudly) that Bertram is the Oatmeal Capital of Texas. They even have an Oatmeal Festival! My buddy was in a truck ahead of me, and made it thru the light, but I was caught and had to stop. My buddy really wanted to get to the lease and kept truckin’, leaving me to apply a heavy foot to the accelerator (thank God I don’t have a Toyota) to catch up. Next thing you know Jed’s a millionaire, and I have the bubble gum lights going off behind me on the local law enforcement vehicle (their one and only). For those of you not familiar with small town Texas law enforcement, Big Brother Bubba looooves to pull over city slickers from the big city. We represent a steady, easy revenue stream for the local coffers. To contest any citation, you are required to show up in person, usually in the middle of the week, usually late in the day or in the evening. Hence, most people will just pay the fine and go on down the road. I digress, back to my story! Well, Officer Bubba, looking just like Sheriff Buford T Justice from Smoky and the Bandit fame (short stature, big belly hanging over his gun belt, cowboy boots and straw hat) ambles up to the window and goes thru the standard drill. I think he was disappointed because I had pulled over immediately and had license and registration waiting for him! I quickly realized from his demeanor I had zero chance to talk my way out of the ticket, but gave it the old college try of “hey, I’m following my buddy, he made the light and blew ahead, and I’m just trying to catch up so I don’t get lost” explanation, but no good… Oh well! So, after a short wait, Officer Bubba ambles back up to the window and hands me my ticket with a big ol’ friendly country smile, that featured three missing top teeth, one barely hanging on by a slim part of the root, discolored by years of copious Redman, Skoal and or unfiltered cigarette use. Ugh!! But good news for Quaker Oats, I’m sending them an idea for a new ad… you got it... Officer Bubba in the Oatmeal Capital of Texas extolling the virtues of daily consumption of oatmeal to help “preserve” those few precious teeth that small town law enforcement officers are so fond of!!! Whadaya think?

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